In the first moments that you meet Donna Reilly and Ellen Calman, you become quickly aware that the energy in the room has changed. The room quickly becomes electrified, and what might not have seemed possible before now seems not just possible, but probable. You feel as if you’ve met people who are genuinely on your side.
Longtime competitors working for different realtors, Reilly and Calman have now joined forces, pooling their more than 30 years of experience in residential real estate in Central New Jersey. The reason is simple: They intend to bring the area’s residents — and those who relocate here — the kind of white-glove service that only the best and most dedicated realtors can offer.
Donna Reilly has lived in the West Windsor/Cranbury area for 18 years and has two daughters in college. Before becoming a realtor in 2000, she worked as a paralegal at several top-tier New York City law firms.
Ellen Calman has lived in West Windsor for 22 years. She and her husband Marshall have raised two daughters as well, one grown and one still in high school. She worked as a buyer and merchandiser at the vice president level for several large department stores, then became a realtor in 1990.
What brought these two women together after competing with each other for 15 years?
“We had strengths that complemented each other’s,” Reilly said. “Sometimes those are big things, sometimes they’re small. But they matter. And we figured that if they mattered to us…”
“They’d matter to our clients,” Calman said, finishing her partner’s thought.
“To us,” Reilly said, “this isn’t just about buying and selling houses. It’s more than that. It’s about people’s lives. It’s about the right house, the right school for their kids, the right commute. Sometimes people move because they want a change, but other times they move because they’re being relocated. Or maybe the couple is divorcing. Moving can be something people want to do, but often it’s something people need to do.
“Either way,” she added, “Ellen and I believe people deserve an advantage in today’s real estate market. They deserve to find the right buyer for their house and to find the best place to live next.”
With hundreds of successful transactions between them, both women are highly accomplished Realtors. But ask what makes them stand out in their field and they’ll mention another statistic. “It’s not just how many houses we sell,” said Calman. “It’s that our listings sell two and a half times faster than our competitors’ do. Plus, in 2015 we beat the marketplace by more than three percentage points in selling price.”
What does that mean to a seller?
“It means on a house that sells for $800,000, there’s an additional $24,000 in the seller’s pocket. To us, that’s success.”
“That’s not magic,” Reilly said. “It takes dedication and focus. We do a huge amount of pre-sale prep, including a detailed market analysis that helps predict what the sales price could be. We spend a lot of time helping sellers stage their houses for sale. That used to mean making the house seem like a home, with family photos and personal items and baking cookies on open-house day to make the house smell good. But that’s all changed. Today staging a house means making it not just beautiful, but making it so that prospective buyers can see themselves and their family living there. If we can do that, half our job is done.”
Another element of a successful sale is timing. Reilly and Calman’s goal is to sell a house within two to three weeks of its listing. When the house is newly on the market, that’s the time of peak buyer interest, and taking full advantage of that window is key. “You come onto the market,” Reilly said, “your house is polished, it looks pretty and inviting, all the little imperfections are taken care of, and it’s listed at an appropriate price. Those are the things that sell houses, and handling those things is what makes Ellen and me as successful as we are.”
“We handled those things as competitors,” Calman added, “and now we handle them as partners. But it’s not just that there are two of us now. We like to say that one plus one isn’t two, but three. What we can do together is more than just what we both bring to our work.
“We share a philosophy about business, about helping clients, and that makes it possible for us to share ideas, to brainstorm. That’s important because what I lack, Donna has, and what she lacks, I have. We complement each other, and while that’s very nice, the important thing is that it’s a very powerful strength that we didn’t have before. Working together, we’re able to generate creative solutions to the challenges of buying and selling residential real estate today.”
This means Reilly and Calman’s clients get two partners who look at every house and every transaction from two perspectives, who discuss details and search for just the right combination of selling strategy and the practical realities of selling property in today’s marketplace. Their assistant, Pat Hatch, has her own depth of experience, and she knows how to create and maintain the schedules that keep transactions moving forward. Experience has shown the team the right way and the wrong way to do things. “The right way works,” the two women said almost simultaneously, sharing a laugh.
It’s that process, combined with research, marketing, networking, and the global power and reach of Coldwell Banker, that enable Reilly and Calman to meet their clients’ vision and mission. Using their own experience and a finely honed expertise, they provide a level of service that goes far beyond what other realtors in the central New Jersey marketplace are willing or able to deliver.
Much of their approach is designed to keep their clients focused on the goal: the transaction. There are times when that focus is challenged by the Internet. While it can be a useful tool, it can also be a distraction. “Information is not a bad thing,” Calman said. “But information isn’t expertise. It can distract from the goal, and that’s why Donna and I step in and work with our clients to keep them focused.
“When we start working with a new client, we work with them very closely to understand what their goals are, and we give it to them straight. We tell them what the market will support for their house. What improvements they will have to make so that their house is presented in the best possible light. What they can expect to buy for what they have.”
“For us, it’s not just about signing a new client and running a couple of ads and managing an open house,” said Reilly. “It’s so much more than that. Selling a house is a complex, detail-oriented process that can take weeks or months. And even though every client is different, for every client we want to make sure we do it right.”
“What they need,” Calman said, “is an advocate. People who know what needs to be done and how to get it done.”
Ilene and Mark Janofsky worked with Calman before she began her partnership with Reilly. “My husband and I worked with Ellen during the summer and fall of 2015. We had heard about her ability as a realtor. She expertly guided us from negotiation through closing on a home in a 55-plus community. Ellen is a consummate professional, and each step of the process was handled with efficiency, grace, and good humor. Within seven weeks of listing it, our home was under contract. We were very happy since other houses listed at the same time remained on the market months later.”
Grace and Grant Yeh voiced similar praise. “When we put our home of 25 years on the market, Ellen’s advice was invaluable at every stage, from pricing to home decorating to renovating. Her extensive knowledge of the area led us to price our house exactly where we needed to for a quick and painless sale. We received multiple offers in the first week and a sales price above our asking price.”
Pat Pujol worked with Donna Reilly in 2014 after working unsuccessfully with another realtor. “My home was on the market for six months and did not sell. I listed it with Donna and it was sold in two days. Why? She was frank, honest, and diplomatic. She and a professional stager made recommendations that made my home more salable. Her positive energy and confidence and humor were so important. She set a pace that kept the process moving.”
Michael Joseph gave Donna an A+. “She got to know us, and she understood our vision. She had great local knowledge. She was always available when we had a question. But mostly it was years of experience and her insights that made the difference to us.”
Reilly and Calman recognize that all any client really wants is to go from where they are to where they’re going as easily and smoothly as possible.
“We want our clients to know that there’s always more that can be done,” said Reilly. “There’s prepping the house. Then staging. Photography. Pricing. Showing. Working the numbers. Managing expectations. Handling every obstacle so that they can get to their closing with no surprises. That’s what we do. As we say in our own marketing, we are focused on the ampersand. That’s what links us together, and that’s what links us to our clients. We’re focused on the ‘and.’ We’re focused on doing more.”
Donna Reilly and Ellen Calman are affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in their Princeton office. Donna can be reached at 609-462-3737 or email at donna@ReillyandCalman.com. Ellen can be reached at 609-577-577 or email at ellen@ReillyandCalman.com.